Yankees reporter Lucas takes in 57th opener

Yankees reporter Lucas takes in 57th opener

Yankees reporter Lucas takes in 57th opener
When Ed Lucas stepped onto Yankee Stadium's emerald green infield for pregame interviews on Friday, it was be his record 57th consecutive home opener as a reporter.

The mark surpassed by two years the standard previously held by the late great Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard.

Since 1956, Lucas's first Opening Day game, the Yankees have raised numerous World Series and American League championship banners, played in all kinds of weather -- including snowstorms -- and paid tribute to their countless pinstriped heroes.

Lucas, 73, has been there through it all, for thousands of regular and postseason games from Mantle and Berra to A-Rod and Jeter -- and never seen a single play. Afflicted by vision problems as a youth, he was permanently blinded when struck between the eyes with a batted ball while recreating New York Giant Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World" on Oct. 3, 1951.

Undeterred, with help from Giants skipper Leo Durocher and then Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto, he began interviewing New York's greatest ballplayers with a cumbersome old reel-to-reel tape recorder, and never looked back.

Lucas was honored with a New York Emmy Award for his work with YESNetwork.com in 2008 and he recently began writing a weekly column, "As I See It," for the Jersey Journal in his native Jersey City, N.J.

Each Opening Day at Yankee Stadium brings back a flood of fond memories and the promise of new ones yet to come.

"It's great, something new like anticipating a baby being born," said Lucas, the father of two grown sons by a previous marriage, with three young grandchildren. "Every home opener is special."

On March 10, 2006, he and his new bride, Allison, were the first and only couple in Yankee Stadium's hallowed history married at the famed ballpark's home plate. Although she's legally blind, Allison helps Lucas with his daily journalism duties.

In the press box, he follows the action with the help of a small radio carrying the play-by-play action. From home, where she watches almost every televised game, Allison calls Ed to give him more detailed accounts of pivotal plays requiring more in-depth explanation.

"I'll describe it in length to him, what's going on," she said.

However, she rarely attends games in person.

"He needs a better pair of eyes," she said. "It's important that he gets his job done."

Sometimes accompanied by his sons, Ed and Chris, or a long list of friends, Lucas attends every game with a guest, although his view of the game usually involves a great deal more insight.

Occasionally, he brings first-time visitors, but ends up guiding them through the stadium's labyrinth of passageways.

"When we get off the elevator, I tell them, 'Go left past the visitors' clubhouse, then make a right, down 11 steps, which takes you out onto the field,'" Lucas said. "They can't believe they're on the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium, seeing all these guys up close. The players say, 'How you doin' Ed?'"

Opening Day is also a reunion, catching up with friends he hasn't encountered personally since last October. One of Lucas's favorite Opening Day experiences came in 1976, during the first game at the remodeled Yankee Stadium. After taking his place in the press box, a member of the media department asked Lucas, "Hey Ed, would you mind if Joe DiMaggio sat next to you?"

"No, not at all," he replied, excited about the opportunity. Lucas knew the great Yankee Clipper from his years of being at the Stadium, but a chance to sit next to him was a thrill just the same. When Lucas went to plug in his radio earpiece, DiMaggio turned and said, "I'll do the play-by-play for you."

For the entire game, DiMaggio described events taking place on the diamond below, including the first home run hit at the remodeled ballpark, a blast by the Twins' Dan Ford off Yankees hurler Rudy May.

"That stands out in my mind, because Joe called all those plays for me," Lucas said.

"Every once in a while, he would tap my leg and say, 'That was quite a play that guy just made.' It was quite a thrill."

In 1996, Lucas was on hand when Andy Pettitte pitched in an Opening Day snowstorm. Seven months later, the Yankees rode down New York's "Canyon of Heroes," showered by confetti during a massive ticker-tape parade after winning their first World Series championship in 18 years.

One of his most difficult tasks was making the transition from the old Yankee Stadium to the gleaming new edifice that opened three years ago.

"It was difficult because I didn't know where I was going," Lucas explained. "I had to learn my way around. The layout's a lot different. The old Stadium, I knew that place inside-out. I would guide people around.

"Now I know all the important parts -- the press box, the interview room, clubhouse, dugout, visiting clubhouse, ways of getting out on the field."

Many people have helped Lucas along the way such as former Yankees media relations director Jackie Farrell. When Lucas first started covering games, Farrell would meet him at the press gate and take him to the press box.

However, nobody was closer to this determined sports journalist than his late friend Rizzuto -- "The Scooter."

When still in his late teens, Lucas overheard the whispers from other scribes in the clubhouse: "What's this blind guy doing here? What can he do?"

Rizzuto told Lucas not to pay any attention.

"Don't listen to these naysayers," Scooter told him. "I was told that I was too small to play baseball. I didn't listen. You go right on doing what you're doing. You can't give up."

Lucas didn't, and now he's a Yankee Stadium legend in his own right. On Friday, he planned to arrive bright and early, hours before game time to interview not only Yankee stars, but visiting ballplayers such as Albert Pujols, the Angels' great slugger.

It's the start of another season at one of baseball's most fabled ballparks, and Lucas can't wait.

"You never know who you're going to meet, you never know who you're going to talk to," he said.

Paul Post is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.